Test feature shows social search may be on the way for Google

A Google user takes screenshots of what appears to be a Digg- or StumbleUpon-like voting system; it might never see public release, but it may mean the company is building new technologies in-house.

Adrian Pike/TechCrunch

A lucky Google user, Adrian Pike, has noticed something cool on search results: buttons to vote on links, much like Digg or StumbleUpon. He sent some screenshots over to TechCrunch.

The feature is being "bucket tested," meaning it's likely been rolled out to a handful of random Google users. As TechCrunch points out, it's not the first time that Google has experimented with voting on links.

Google has put out some official words on the test: "This experiment lets you influence your search experience by adding, moving, and removing search results. When you search for the same keywords again, you'll continue to see those changes." Users can additionally suggest changes to search results, something that Google says may be shared with other users. The explanation added that users will probably only see this feature for a few weeks before it returns to the drawing board.

There's a Google FAQ for it too, explaining that the feature is called "Edit Search Results." And blogger Justin Hileman has posted a detailed account of his experiences with it.

Learning personal search preferences could not only help make results more relevant, but could also add to Google's vast library of personal data and preferences, potentially for ad-serving purposes. It could also be applied to other areas of search, like images, news, and video, which many critics argue are tougher to index by algorithm alone.

But this is interesting for another reason: the persistent rumors that Google might buy Digg and use its technology to breathe some new life into Google News, which hasn't been growing as quickly as some of the company's other products. If Pike's screenshots are any indicator, this may mean that Google has been working to build something similar in-house instead.

Still, let's not get ahead of ourselves: right now, it looks like just a way to shape personal search results. And an experimental one at that.

This post was updated at 8:40 a.m. PT.